Who said you can’t go home?* I can always go home. I’m a total homebody. I love visiting my hometown and I especially love Pittsford in the spring. There is such a happy light feeling about upstate New York when it starts shedding its winter coat around May (or sometimes June) and it’s my very favorite time to be there. I haven’t been home since last June (!!!) for my sister’s wedding and I was already lamenting that this trip was going to be in an fly-in-Friday-morning, fly-out-Sunday-morning type of visit. Too, too quick.
(And I won’t bother to waste a whole blog post on how in-Friday-morning turned into in-to Buffalo-Friday-afternoon, but I will go on record to say that air travel lately has just become absurd. Is there any other industry where you pay so very much money and get such poor delivery on promises and services? Whatever… moving on… I made it home and so did my bag. So there’s that.)
Pittsford! In the spring! It’s very beautiful. My mom and I went into the village on Saturday morning for a coffee date and a hair appointment and since we were early for the hair appointment we just wandered around the canal area. I was snapping pictures of my favorite sites - the boat I used to work on, the coffee shop I used to work at, the grain mill that had been reconverted to an office and my mom said to me “You really like visiting Pittsford don’t you?” I do and I know not everyone in the world has the sense of contentment and peace that I have when I return to the place I grew up and I feel fortunate that my hometown memories are happy ones.
I worked as a deckhand on this boat, the Sam Patch, for two summers with one of my best friends, Jen. It was the greatest summer job ever. We rode up and down the canal every day doing lunch and dinner cruises and private parties. Jen and I were in charge of tying the boat up when we got to the locks for the ride up, serving meals, bartending, jumping down in the hold to find another bottle of wine or refill the snack bar, answering questions about the history of the Erie Canal, selling memorabilia and even occasionally – when Captain Rick wanted to come down and mingle with the passengers – driving. (And if you have never been in a canal lock before, it is truly a marvel of engineering… a legitimate water elevator!) One of my favorite memories was working on the boat was on a 4th of July cruise when we took the boat from the canal down the Genesee River into downtown Rochester, and Jen and I climbed up on the roof to watch the fireworks. We got great tans (a great job benefit when you’re an 18 year old girl), amazing tips on some especially boozey dinner cruises, learned how to tie knots and most important of all, our boss – Eric – imparted to us that he trusted us wholly as he often left Jen and I in charge of closing up the boat at night, running the credit card slips, calculating our tips, restocking merchandise and placing food orders for the next day. Jen and I are both the type who completely thrive under being put in charge and to be so young but have that kind of responsibility – I think we both took for granted what it said that our boss thought about us but I look back on it now and I’m amazed at what he trusted a pair of 18 year olds to handle. I’ve had few bosses since then that have empowered employees the way he did his staff.
I’m writing all this now because I found out a week before I went home that Eric had died unexpectedly. He was very young – in his mid 40s – and he had a preteen daughter (who I used to babysit.) Jen and I texted back and forth when we found out, expressing our shock and our sadness. Whenever I’ve gone home and visited the canal dock, I’ve seen Eric bustling around getting ready for the next cruise to go out and inevitably he’ll ask him if I’m home to stay and if I want to work a shift on the boat. (I always do and yet I never had time!) I kept half-expecting him to jump out of the ticket office while I was down there snapping pictures, but the canal cruise season hadn’t started yet and the dock was quiet. He was a good man, and I’m sad for his family to learn of his passing. He’s worked tirelessly for the non-profit that runs the canal boat for over a decade now, and I know the organization is going to be impacted by losing him too. Very sad.
I actually intended to write this whole post about my trip home, but I sort of transgressed when I started writing about my trip down to the canal and little mental good-bye to my boss and a piece of my teenage years. I think it’s probably better to end on that note and continue on with a second installment later to write about the real reason for my trip home, which was the beautiful baby shower my mom’s friends threw for me.
Oh and by the way, I googled it and to the best of my knowledge it looks like Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home. And Mr. Wolfe, I just want you to know that Jennifer Nettles, Bon Jovi and I whole-heartedly disagree with you.